Traveling with Oxygen and Medical Equipment

There are specific rules for air travel if the senior is frail, or requires DME. The rules have tightened considerably in the past few years, and it’s important to contact the airline to advise them of your special needs requirement before you arrive at the airport. Most airlines request a minimum 48-hour notice to ensure there are no delays when you’re traveling. Each airline has specific rules about traveling with special needs, but there are many common requirements:

  • The airlines reserve the right to refuse to serve a person who they believe may have a medical emergency mid-flight. It’s possible that the airline will require a medical certificate signed by a physician that states that the senior is healthy enough to fly.
  • Many airlines require that a frail senior be accompanied by a person who appears to be healthy enough to help with issues as they arise. Check with the airline to find out what their requirements are before booking your flight. Just as with any flight, tickets for travelers with special needs might not be refundable.
  • It’s possible that the airline will not allow a frail traveler to sit in specific seats, especially those located near the emergency exits. It’s important to remain flexible about seating arrangements.
  • Many airports require that the senior’s wheelchair be checked as luggage and use one of the airport’s chairs from the curb to the gate. This means that a wheelchair must be arranged at any airport where there’s a layover – and one at the final destination. The airline can assist with these arrangements if given proper notice.
  • Airlines also offer transportation from gate to gate on special carts – this is extremely helpful in the larger airports. Ask the airline to assist with this when you are making reservations.
  • Seniors who require oxygen will need to make special arrangements with an oxygen provider. There are small airline-approved concentrators that can be rented started at $50.00 per day; after the travel the item can be returned via mail or to a local office of the equipment company. These arrangements should be made at least a week ahead of time to ensure that there are no delays; most airplanes don’t have the ability to provide oxygen support long enough to last a flight.

Each airline offers brochures and assistance for travelers with special needs. Check their websites for information about their specific rules. It also might be worth the time to book your travel through a travel agent – they don’t cost more (their commissions are paid by the airlines, hotels and resorts) and they can be invaluable in anticipating the needs your family member may have.